If Malthus was wrong, Columbus was wrong.

December 5, 2022 by Joshua
in Nature

Saying Malthus was wrong about population because global human population hasn’t collapsed yet is like saying Columbus was wrong about Earth being round because he never reached China or India.

First, everyone knows Columbus did brutal things you could call wrong. I’m talking about his belief you could sail to Asia by going west from Europe. He missed by two continents and the Pacific Ocean—big oversights about half the surface of the planet. He didn’t reach Asia.

But he was right about being able to reach Asia that way. No matter how big the oversights, you can go around a finite planet, it just may take longer than you expect.

Thomas Malthus published An Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798

Malthus believed humans could outgrow what nourishment plants could provide, in which case our population would collapse. He missed how much fossil fuels and nuclear could augment the food supply—big oversights since their energy could produce more food in some years than sunlight alone.

But he was right about there being limits to growth on Earth. No matter how big the oversights, you can’t grow forever on a finite planet, it just may take longer than you expect.

History showed that Columbus was right, despite missing two continents and an ocean, and that Malthus was right, despite missing fossil fuels and nuclear.

Other collapses and reasons for collapse

Many human populations have collapsed, as ruins all over the world attest, many for reasons Malthus described.

Human populations can collapse for many reasons Malthus didn’t predict but still result from our behavior, like producing too much waste, chopping down too many trees, using up too many other resources, killing species we depend on, and producing too much toxic waste, which I distinguish from producing too much waste, since we’ve only recently created waste as toxic as chemicals we created that never existed in nature, plastics, and radioactivity.

Read my weekly newsletter

On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

Leave a Reply

Sign up for my weekly newsletter